Stories from the Road: Monumental Scaffolding, Taj Mahal, India

Stories from the Road is a collection of stories about my own photographic adventures in South Asia. Sometimes the stories are exciting and sometimes mundane and at times emotional. This section deals with vernacular photography and the way we all experience the photographs we see. What they meant when we took them and what they mean over time.

I have found that when I travel I take photographs of the same things over and over. For example, if you look at my Instagram feed you will notice that I like to photograph bicycles. I am also partial to taking photographs of ceilings. Ceilings in India and other parts of the world are sometimes gloriously decorated. As you know I love architecture, so I am often photographing it. Since many of the monuments in India are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, they are constantly being maintained. Furthermore, because of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, construction is taking place at many sites around the Kathmandu Valley as well. I have found that while I am at these sites I am drawn to the scaffolding, netting and barriers being used by the construction workers. There is a great variety and I photograph them all.

For this week’s Stories from the Road, I am looking at a photograph I took back in September 2016 at the Taj Mahal. There was working being done on east side of the monument and the scaffolding and netting made a beautiful arrangement. The photograph is structured through many layers and relatively flat. The first layer across the top of the photograph is of blue netting held to the scaffolding by yellow rope. The scaffolding is made of bamboo poles, in the upper right and left hand corners and across the middle there are extra poles laying across the scaffolding. Beyond the scaffolding is the Taj Mahal. What is visible is the largest and main niche of the east side of the monument. In the lower 1/4th of the photograph, the doorway along with the inlay around it is visible. At the top center of the photograph the pointed arch is slightly obscured by the bamboo poles.

The netting and scaffolding make an interesting obstruction of the Taj Mahal. When visiting monuments like the Taj we often want pristine, classic views of the subject; however, the obstruction caused by the netting and scaffolding points to the fact that as a temporary spectator of the Taj Mahal we can never fully know her. I find the cluttered nature of the photograph and its visual challenges more interesting than a straight view of the Taj. I had seen and collected so many photograph of the Taj before I ever saw her that I know what she looks like. This obstructed view gives me new insight into her life as the most recognized building in the world.

As a tourist I adore photographing the architectural monuments of South Asia and beyond. Many of them are depicted the same way in every book, but you can find some variation with other’s snapshots online. I love shooting as many views as possible because when I return home and examine my work, the photographs give me time to consider details I had never noticed or new viewpoints I have never explored. Plus there is a beauty in the work, the work of maintaining the monument and the beauty of the temporary objects used to maintain them. This is why I make snapshotty street photograph, to be able to continue to see things in a new way.

By |2017-01-02T02:54:01-05:00January 3rd, 2017|India|0 Comments

About the Author:

Betsy Williamson is an assistant professor of art in the state of New Mexico. Before coming to New Mexico for this job she was an adjunct professor throughout Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, teaching photography and art appreciation. Between September 2015 and May 2017, she took a break from teaching to pursue art, research and life in India. Now she is back to teaching and part-timing it in India.

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